Will You Dance,

If I Ask You to Dance?




Maddie nervously fiddled with the place settings at the small table for two.  She had arranged for lunch to be served on the sun porch – this comfortable, intimate setting would be more conducive to a heart-to-heart with Helen than the formal dining room.  After the number of dinner parties, large galas, and private meetings she had arranged in her lifetime, it was completely ridiculous that a simple lunch with her best friend should make her so nervous.  Yet, here she was, anxious and worried.

A vague feeling of apprehension overcame her.  Somehow, Maddie knew this meeting with Helen was going to create more problems than it solved.  Maybe it’s not that problems will be created, it’s just that I’ll know they’re there.  She obstinately pushed that thought away.  After all, that was the entire point of this luncheon – to know what was going on.

Celia showed Helen into the room and left again.  Helen gave Maddie a vague smile of greeting before sitting down.  Maddie sat beside her and watched her closely.  Helen anxiously twisted the strap of her purse, looking everywhere except at her hostess.  After several long minutes of silent observation, Maddie decided to throw tact and grace straight out the window.

“Enough is enough, Helen,” she said sternly.  “You’ve been avoiding me for weeks, and I had to twist your arm to get you to come to lunch today.  What is your problem?”

Helen jumped in surprise at Maddie’s harsh tone.  Turning startled blue eyes on her friend, she gaped at the shockingly forthright woman.  “I… I don’t know… what you’re talking about,” she stammered.

Maddie arched one sculptured brow and narrowed her eyes.  Stiffly, she queried, “Would you like to hear about life at Crabapple Farm from your daughter’s point of view, or would you care to share your side of the story?”

Clenching her jaw, Helen turned away.  The soft, gentle visage that was so familiar to everyone was nowhere in sight.  Instead, her face was a forbidding mask, cold and emotionless.

Continuing her own angry glare, Maddie sat back in her chair, folded her arms over her chest, crossed her legs, and began tapping her foot on the floor.  “For weeks, I have suspected something was bothering you.  AS YOUR FRIEND, I tried talking to you, asking questions, offering to listen.  You clammed up and started avoiding me.  I assumed you just didn’t want to talk about it.  Since my history is all about needing support rather than giving it, I figured that you just didn’t feel I was the right person to talk to.  I was a little hurt, but I let it go.

“However, it’s not about me or my ability to be a friend anymore.  In the last seven days, I have had seven different people ask for my help in dealing with you.  Seven.  The only Bob-White who didn’t was Jim, and that’s only because he was assigned to keep Trixie busy.  That seven includes ALL FOUR of your children.  Even Bobby came to talk to me after his riding lesson the other day!”

Maddie was on a roll now.  She had started out calmly, but the more she talked, the more agitated she got.  Her normally soft voice was strong and forceful, projecting plenty of hurt and anger.  There was no tact or sympathy to be had today.

“Now, I am not known for being the sympathetic one.  I am not known for being the good listener.  I am not known for being the shoulder to cry on.  And, unless it involves a fundraiser or shopping, I am not known as the one who can fix things.  Yet, they all came to me.

“I am excited to be trusted with their problems.  I am eager to help.  But I am also shocked to be asked and, quite frankly, worried about how desperate they must be if they are resorting to asking for my help.

“When our children reach that level of desperation, I am not going to sit back and hire someone to fix the problem.  This time, I will get my hands as dirty as it takes.  Now start talking!”

After Maddie’s long-winded tirade, the silence was deafening.  Maddie waited impatiently, while Helen shifted nervously in her seat.  Celia came in with a rolling cart laden with their lunch dishes.  Maddie indicated with a curt nod to just leave it by the table.  Feeling the tension that could be cut with a knife, Celia quickly pushed the cart to the indicated place and beat a hasty retreat.

Once they were alone again, Helen quietly began to speak.  She twisted her hands together in her lap, still refusing to look at Maddie, and said, “I don’t care how perfect your life is, how rich or poor you are, how many or few people are in your house, how busy or not you are, you have complaints.  Everyone does.  Even the happiest person sees something every day that is not the way they’d like it to be.

“But, if youre a happy person, you don’t let it bother you.  If you have a good life, you look at your blessings and ignore the flaws.  If most things go well, you shrug off the ones that don’t.

“Occasionally, however, something happens that focuses your attention on all the little problem details.  It highlights the flaws.  It shadows the blessings.  It aggravates and exacerbates every imperfection.”

She fell silent.  Her eyes wandered to the lunch tray, and she began fussing.  She started fixing plates for the two of them, because feeding people had always helped her deal with problems.  Maddie knew this about her friend, so she remained still, waiting to hear what else Helen would say.  When the plates were piled high in front of them, Helen picked up her fork and pushed the food around her plate.  Finally, she began to speak again, almost casually, still refusing to look at Maddie.

“There are little things.  Sometimes, I hate that my kids are so independent, because I feel like they don’t need me any more.  Ive always had moments where I’m a little jealous of Peter’s attention to Trixie; no other female should have his adoration.  And I miss Brian.”  She sighed heavily.

“But these things have always been just little twinges that passed quickly.  Peter is exactly how I always wanted the father of my children to be.  He treats Trixie how I always wished my father would have treated me.  My children are independent because that’s how I raised them, and Im very proud of them.”  She straightened up and nodded determinedly.  “I want them to be that way.”

Her face softened.  “Brian is starting on his very ambitious educational plans.  He got a full scholarship to a good school.  Im extremely proud of my boy, and I’m happy for him.

“So, normally, the twinge of unhappiness will pass quickly.  It’s not worth it – I have a great life.”  Helen smiled softly.  Then her face crumbled, and she stared at the multitude of colors reflected by the crystal water glass in front of her.  “But lately…”

When her big blue eyes finally looked up at her friend, they were filled with tears and terror.  Her shoulders shook, and her voice quivered.  “Maddie… I’m just so scared!”

Shocked by this admission, Maddie momentarily froze.  Then she hastily moved her chair closer and put her arm around the suddenly fragile-looking woman.  Helen laid her head on her friend’s shoulder and let the tears flow.  Maddie gently asked, “Afraid of what, sweetie?”

The answer was a ragged whisper, barely audible.  “She’s going to die.”

Horrified, Maddie jumped back and grabbed Helen by the shoulders.  Focusing on the pain etched in the face before her, she exclaimed, “What the hell are you talking about?”

Helen closed her eyes wearily.  “I don’t know.  I think I’m losing my mind.”

Maddie relaxed her grip and sat back.  Frowning, she said firmly, “Helen, you’re going to have to give me more to work with than that.”

Helen reached for her purse to retrieve a tissue.  Wiping her eyes, she sniffled.  “You’re just going to think I’m crazy.  I think I’m crazy.  How can I expect anyone else to understand?”

The golden curls, so very like her daughter’s, flopped in front of her eyes.  Maddie gently brushed them back.  “Sweetie, what’s making you crazy is holding it all in.  You’ve got to talk to somebody.  The stress youre putting yourself under is destroying your family.”

Helen’s fist balled around the tissue, and she closed her eyes tightly, an agonized expression settling onto her face.  “I’ve been awful to her, Maddie.  I go into these rages, and I lash out at poor Trixie.  A part of me is watching, wondering who the lunatic is that’s daring to hurt my baby.  But it’s me!  How can I do that to her?”

She leaned forward, elbows on the table, and held her head in her hands.  “And poor Peter!  He’s simply trying to be rational, trying to be a calming influence to still the raging seas.  And all he gets for his efforts is grief from me.  I’m sure he’s ready to have me locked up.  And Mart and Bobby never know what to expect.  If it’s just them, I’m just Moms.  I’m normal; we have normal conversations.  But, as soon as Trixie enters the room, off I go again.”

She looked up, blue eyes pleading for help.  With a shudder, she said, “I’ve got to get out of this awful place I’m in!”

Maddie regarded her friend thoughtfully.  She placed her arm comfortingly around Helen’s shoulder again.  She reassured her softly.  “I’ll do whatever I can to help you.  But I need you to explain more.  What did you mean by ‘she’s going to die’?”

Tears coursing down her face, Helen struggled to convey her fears.  “It all started the night she was shot…


Helen sat by her daughter’s bedside, softly patting the golden curls.  Trixie looked so peaceful lying there, one would think she was simply asleep, dreaming pleasant dreams.  But then Helen glanced at the IV and the cast on Trixie’s arm, and remembered the horrific events of the morning.

After all the times Trixie had been kidnapped, held at gunpoint, and threatened any number of other ways, this was the first time shed really been hurt.  They should be grateful for that.  But she was only fifteen.  How many more times would she be hurt in the future?

Suddenly, Helen heard a voice speaking to her.  She looked around and listened.  It wasn’t audible; it was more like a voice in her head.  But it wasn’t her own voice, like she would hear if she were talking to herself.  It was different:  strong, powerful, insistent.  And it was speaking directly to her.

And the message scared the hell out of her.

“This is just the beginning.  The worst is yet to come.”



Helen drew in another ragged breath before continuing.  “At first, I just shrugged it off.  I chalked it up to my over-active imagination, wondering what sort of other trouble Trixie will get herself into next.  But then the dreams started…”  She stopped, choking on her fear.

“What are the dreams about?” Maddie prodded.

Helen ran a trembling hand through her unruly curls.  With a shaky, uneven voice, she answered, “They’re jumbled and disjointed.  They don’t make any sense.  But they always involve hospitals and tubes and monitors.  There are doctors quoting survival rates.  Then someone yells ‘We’re losing her!’  That’s where I always wake up.”

She floundered, trying to make her friend understand.  “It’s not the images, or the words.  It’s the feelings.  I am completely overcome by a crushing, mind-numbing fear.  I wake up terrified, so much I can hardly breathe.  It’s horrible.  I’m afraid to sleep at night.”  She offered a wan, rueful smile.  “Of course, that just makes me even more irritable during the day.

“The worst part is the way the dreams haunt me when I’m awake.  I’ll be fine...  then Trixie will walk into the room, and these tidal waves of fear crash over me and strangle me.  I hate being afraid.”  She snorted.  “Trixie comes by that honestly, you know.  Anyway, then I get mad about being afraid.  And, since it’s all somehow connected to Trixie, I lash out at her.”

Helen sat quietly, struggling to return her breathing to normal.  Maddie looked at her sympathetically and rubbed her back, while her mind raced, trying to think of some way to help Helen.

Turning to look at Maddie, Helen shrugged helplessly.  Her voice low and raw, she finished, “I just don’t want to be afraid anymore.”

Maddie’s soft hazel eyes flickered with hesitation as she regarded the other woman.  “Can I offer a suggestion you won’t like?”

Helen offered a tremulous smile.  “At this point, any suggestion would be helpful.”

“Even professional help?”

The blue eyes were startled for a brief moment.  Then they lightened with a small spark of hope.  “Talking to you is helping.  Talking to a professional can’t hurt.”

Maddie nodded decisively and became all business.  “Fine.  I have a friend from college who is a wonderful therapist in the City.  I will make you an appointment, and I’ll take you.  We’ll just say you need a girls’ day out, and we’ll add some shopping or get our nails done or something.”  She stood briskly.  “I’ll go make the call right now, and then we’ll eat.”

After Maddie left the room, Helen sat back in her chair and leaned her head back.  She was exhausted.  But, for the first time in weeks, she felt the embers of hope come alive.




Author's Notes



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